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3 minutes to pitch your research

Why, how and what came next for Three Minute Thesis winner Nazira Albargothy

This year, Taylor & Francis are once again supporting Vitae’s Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT®), an event that celebrates the dynamic and exciting work conducted by doctoral researchers across the UK and Europe. But how do you approach communicating your research in just three minutes? And what can researchers gain from entering the competition?

Nazira Albargothy is a third-year PhD student in Clinical and Experimental Neuroscience at the University of Southampton and was the winner of last year’s 3MT competition. Since winning the award she has founded “A Beat to Life” initiative which teaches children basic life support in schools, grabbed attention from the Middle East via social media, and has been invited to speak at a number of events including TEDx 2017 (watch Nazira’s presentation above for a taster of her winning presentation skills).

We spoke to Nazira to hear her advice to those entering this year, what she’s been up to since winning, and how she thinks the competition as a whole has helped her to develop her career.

Tell us about your research focus and current role
I’m a final year PhD student at The University of Southampton, and my research focuses on discovering the anatomical routes via which drugs and molecules enter the brain from the cerebrospinal fluid, which is a fluid that is in direct contact with the brain.

This is an alternative drug delivery route to the brain that bypasses the blood-brain barrier, and investigating it will enable the development of therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and brain tumors.

Talk us through your presentation and the approach you took to ensure you could communicate your thesis in just 3 minutes (quite a challenge!)
I created a list of the most important aspects of my research and based on that came up with an analogy that is common to most people (in my case it was a Google ‘brain’ map).

I ensured that my three minute presentation was composed of a story that captivated the listener by taking them on a journey through my research, first introducing them to the background of the disease, raising the research question in the middle, and then using an analogy in different parts of the presentation to deliver the research idea. I also utilized the slide by adding details to it that I wouldn’t have time to discuss and to give a visual representation of my analogy.

You won £3000 to spend on public engagement activity and the opportunity to present at the Royal Institution. Can you tell us how you have used the prize money and how this has benefited your career?
The money went towards two projects. The first was ‘A Beat to Life’, which I founded with Professor. Carare, Dr. Serena Cottrell, Prof. Charles Deakin and Mrs. Katie Bake. The second project was sponsorship of a national meeting to develop and widen collaboration of a locally developed, personalized holistic care plan for children.

“A Beat to Life aims to teach children basic life support in schools”

A Beat to Life aims to teach children basic life support in schools in collaboration with doctors, nurses, paramedics and St. Johns ambulance on the national ‘Restart a Heart Day’. Medical students will be trained to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the most talented of them will train pupils in secondary schools and colleges. This is not only to encourage members of the public to act appropriately in emergency situations, but to also inspire pupils to pursue STEM subjects at university by raising their awareness of medical advances.

This idea sparked from the fact that the chance of reviving the heart and saving the life of an individual who suffered a heart attack may be as high as ninety percent if they are defibrillated within one minute, yet this figure drops to five percent if delayed by ten minutes. Founding A Beat to Life has had a positive impact on my career, as I have been able to collaborate with clinicians and eminent scientists sharing the same interest. I also hope that other universities will implement this training program in the future.

“This sponsorship will also help bridge the gap between researchers and doctors”

The care plan sponsorship was inspired by Beatrice Lee, RIP age thirteen years who had a severe brain injury as a result of an in utero twin to twin transfusion. The family of Beatrice realized there was a need for a personalized medical plan for their daughter that they could show to medical staff in an emergency life threatening situation that was unique to her.

Sponsoring this national meeting will provide me with the opportunity to present my research on new advances in Spinal Muscular Atrophy to pediatricians with a specialist interest in children with complex neurological injuries at a national forum. It is also a chance for me to be part of a patient inspired collaboration that is likely to be endorsed nationally and by NICE. This meeting will also help bridge the gap between researchers and doctors, allowing them to discuss research advances and applying them to patient’s needs.

If you could tell other doctoral students one thing you gained from entering the 3MT®competition what would it be?
The huge level of interest in my research that arose from both scientists and non-scientists. One of the highlights is the attention I received from the Middle East when an article was published in the Kuwaiti newspaper (Alqabas) celebrating this success, particularly since I represent women in science who are still under represented in the science community. I received an overwhelming positive response via social media with 18K likes, over 2000 shares and many positive comments.

I was also invited to be a speaker at a number of events including TEDx 2017 (where I will be speaking about the growth in human knowledge in light of my neuroscience research).

And one piece of advice for those who’re considering entering, or have already entered for this year’s competition?
3MT develops your communication skills in ways that a conference presentation or other short presentations cannot. The time limit forces you to be concise and to communicate your research to individuals of all specialties, which is a key skill as a scientist.

I advise any competitor to use a simple analogy to communicate their key research idea and to make use of the static slide because a good diagram can save you many words and time in a competition where this is crucial.

Twitter: @Nalbargothy  @ABeatToLife

Nazira Albargothy is a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine and department of Clinical and Experimental Sciences at the University of Southampton. She completed a three year BSc. in Medical Physiology at the University of Leicester in 2014. Prior to starting her PhD, Nazira was successful in securing grants from the Society of Biology to complete two different research projects, one on the auditory pathway in the brain with Prof. Forsythe and another on cancer signaling pathways with Dr. Tanaka.

Nazira is now funded by Biogen Pharmaceuticals to investigate new pathways for efficient drug delivery to the brain in Prof. Carare’s laboratory. An understanding of these pathways is important for the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders including multiple sclerosis and brain tumours.

Nazira is the ambassador of Prof. Carare’s lab and is passionate about improving science research in the Middle East. She is a member of the Society for Arab Neuroscientists and the Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative (PNI) society and has been successful in forming collaborations with researchers sharing similar interests.